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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
14 January 2002

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 3, No. 2

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Why Did the West Legitimize Yasser Arafat?

Why does the West continue to recognize a self-centered thug who murders even his own associates as the leader of the Palestinian people?

by Jerome F. Winzig

What would be the current status of the Middle East if diplomats and leaders in the United States and other Western democracies had expended less effort in legitimizing Yasser Arafat and instead paid attention to the plight of the Palestinian people? It's a question that has additional relevance after the January 10 Wall Street Journal article entitled, "The Arafat I Knew," by General Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former head of Romania's foreign intelligence service under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the highest-ranking intelligence officer ever to have defected from a former Soviet bloc country.

The most disturbing part of General Pacepa's account is not that Arafat personally spoke by radio with the terrorist Abu Jihad during the PLO's 1973 seizure of diplomats in the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, Sudan and ordered him to kill the American Ambassador, Cleo A. Noel, Jr. Nor is it that Mike Hargreaves, a U.S. NSA officer stationed in Cyprus, recorded the conversation and had it transcribed.

Most disturbing is Pacepa's description of who killed Saed Hammami, the PLO representative to England, at his London office in January 1978. After the assassination, purported evidence began to surface pointing to Abu Nidal, the infamous terrorist who had recently broken with Arafat to start his own organization. Today, the Palestinian Authority claims Hammami was killed by Israeli Intelligence, the Mossad. However, Pacepa says that Ali Hassan Salameh, Arafat's liaison officer in Romania, told him that the PLO had killed him.

When he was asked why they'd kill their own people, Salameh replied, "We want to mount some spectacular operations against the PLO, making it look as if they had been organized by Palestinian extremist groups that accuse the chairman [Arafat] of becoming too conciliatory and moderate." According to Salameh, Arafat's cold-blooded calculation went even further when he later asked the PLO Executive Committee to sentence Nidal to death for the murder that Arafat had ordered.

Pacepa's account reinforces information that is generally known about Arafat, namely that he is far more concerned about his own personal power than he is about the Palestinian people, and is utterly unprincipled when it comes to extending or hanging onto that power.

Arafat's duplicity extends even to his birthplace. He has long claimed to have been born in Jerusalem (or alternately, in the Gaza strip) but in fact, he was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1929. His father was a textile merchant from Palestine. (Is it not curious how often infamous terrorists do not share the same impoverished backgrounds of the people whose cause they claim to champion?)

Perhaps the West's willingness to recognize Arafat as a legitimate leader of the Palestinians reflects the same Western bias that accepts tyrants, oligarchies, and one-man in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Middle Eastern countries. It seems the West doesn't have the same expectations for these countries as it does for countries it considers Western. Would the United States tolerate an Israeli prime minister if it had a tape recording indicating he had ordered the murder of an American ambassador?

General Pacepa points out that for 20 years Washington considered his old boss Ceausescu to be the only Communist leader who could create an opening in the Iron Curtain. The United States ignored Ceausescu's brutality and tyrannical rule. When he was reelected by the Romanian Communist Party in 1989, the United States congratulated him. Just three weeks later, he was toppled from power, accused of genocide, and executed.

The Palestinian people deserve equal treatment from the United States. They deserve the same expectations of democracy we have for the Israelis. They deserve to be able to go to work regularly, without having their roads and highways blockaded. They deserve to have their schools left standing so their children can be educated.

For any of this to be possible, they need to be able to choose their own rulers freely. They need to develop their own legitimate leaders, leaders who care about their people. They do not deserve the continuing spectacle of having the West recognize a self-centered, murderous thug as -- in the words of the BBC -- "the unchallenged leader of the Palestinian people."

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